Staying social without social media – Garden Center – Garden Center Magazine

Connect with your customers in person by helping them solve their problems and engaging them in fun new ways.
For the past 15 years garden centers have scrambled to have a presence on social media. Most IGCs are on Facebook and Instagram, and some venture onto TikTok and other platforms. Yet marketing advisors are now talking about the winding down of social media, and how businesses need to look to other ways of connecting with customers when the public tires of these internet communities. I’d guess that most IGCs are thinking, “What? We were just getting the hang of it …”
Fortunately, most of us have also been “building on our own land.” Websites and newsletters aren’t dependent on the constantly changing algorithms of social platforms, and these are the primary ways we keep in touch with our customers. Garden centers that want to attract and keep younger clients are also using SMS marketing to keep in touch with the generation that pays more attention to texts than to email. Such programs don’t promote special sales or push products, but position IGCs as experts in the plant world. Weekly text messages with a timely tip are especially useful because they create relationships with customers based on solving their problems. In addition to useful information, direct texting has the ability to put a particularly arresting photo directly on your customers’ phones. People love getting the inside scoop about the amazing blue-flowering shrub or peach-colored Mandevilla that has landed, or the special varieties of basil that are now ready to come out of the greenhouse. A photo can be used to help fix current difficulties customers face. In the heat of the summer, many might have lost annuals in their window boxes or pots, and a photo of the fresh shipment of replacement annuals addresses that setback.
Content that’s created for texts can also be used in the newsletter and the website. The text contains the basic information and one photo, the newsletter may have two paragraphs and a couple of photos, and the company blog may have detailed information, instructions and additional photos. Coordinating your content marketing makes better use of your time and is likely to attract different audiences.
Beyond those efforts, however, how can IGCs continue to create communities and connections with their customers? For answers, we only need to look back to what we did before the days when the internet changed everything.
Houseplant clubs, garden crafters, vegetable growers and others can be welcomed at a regular time each month. As an IGC, you supply the location and feature a plant or project, but the main goal is to create communities that share their passions, pleasures and problems.
Offer monthly evening tours of the garden center. Provide a simple beverage; those wishing to avoid serving alcohol can serve a mocktail or sparking water with an herb sprig, and give attendees a printed recipe for a beverage with spirits. Partner with a local restaurant by having them provide a coupon for a discount, free dessert or glass of the house wine. Those who attend your open house can use the coupon that night or in the coming week. Encourage those attending to connect with others for a meal and conversation about plants and gardens.
If your IGC has additional attractions that are aimed at the children, parents are more likely to plant shop with you instead of the local box store. Can the kids feed the fish in your koi pond? Do you have a parrot that talks or scented plants that children are encouraged to touch? Perhaps you have a jar filled with penny candy or small carnival prizes at the register so a child can choose something when their parents check out. There are a number of companies that sell small toys for under 25 cents each.
Create a small area in your store where a different dilemma is featured every weekend. “Still too cold to plant outside? Here’s a seed starting kit for getting a jump on your vegetables.” Or, “Rabbits eating your perennials? Try this liquid rabbit repellent on ornamental plants.” “Did your peonies fall into the mud last year? Place these grow-through supports on top of these plants now.” Engage your customers by asking them which problems you should be featuring in the future.
Social media may not be disappearing soon, but the reality is that people tend to turn away from “the new, new thing” once it becomes the “same old, same old.” Businesses need to keep on top of current trends, be flexible about communicating with customers in ways that the client prefers, and recognize that since marketing is always about developing relationships, we’re well served by returning to face-to-face connections.
C.L. Fornari is a speaker, writer and radio/podcast host who has worked at Hyannis Country Garden, an IGC on Cape Cod, for more than 20 years. She has her audiences convinced that C.L. stands for “Compost Lover.” Learn more at 
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